Olivier Award-winning actor Andrew Scott has tried it all, from intimate theatre-in-the-dark at the Bush to smash hit Cock at The Royal Court, and is currently starring in Noël Coward’s Design For Living at The Old Vic. He talks about how to connect with audiences...
In my teens, I did the equivalent of youth theatre in Ireland and was in a couple of TV commercials. A film company came to my drama club and I somehow ended up in a film called Korea, based on a short story by John McGahern. When Korea came out, I got an agent, went to work at the Abbey Theatre, took a break from my degree in Drama and Theatre Studies, and never came back.
They always tell actors when they’re starting out to “have something to fall back on”, but I don’t necessarily agree, but it’s important for actors to have something to do in periods of unemployment. Don’t lose yourself in those times, have something creative that allows you to think, “I’m good at this too.”
Shows like Design For Living and Cock are challenging to perform, but in very different ways. What was extraordinary about the very intimate Cock was the fact that we didn’t really do anything, which made it more theatrical than a conventional play. Because there was no set, every audience member had their own idea of how the flat looked. With Design For Living, the challenge is to be big, but not over the top. Working at The Old Vic is exhausting – physically, it’s a lot of space and you have to be aware of the people up in the gods, but then you get so much back from the audience.
Working away from home is difficult but I loved working on Broadway in The Vertical Hour. New York is such a brilliant city. It’s quite intense – people talk about the reviews and the Tony Awards season right from the get go, which I don’t think is good. But having said that, there’s a fevered sense of excitement about the theatre out there. You get a real sense of the theatre community much more than you do here.
A great project I worked on was Sea Wall, a monologue about a young father commissioned for the Broken Space season at the Bush. Artistic director Josie O’Rourke wanted pieces set in the dark that required no lighting, so it was set in the early evening, in natural light. I spoke directly to the audience and if you came in I would look at you, if I was telling you a joke and you laughed or if there was noise outside I would refer to it. It was so naturalistic. At first it was really daunting to look audience members in the eye, but it became amazing after a while.
I used to pay more attention to press, but I got burnt. I’m interested to know if the work I’m doing gets good reviews, but I don’t read them. It’s very hard to avoid, because people talk about it so much – in New York they’re obsessed! When I was in Sherlock, someone told me my name was trending on Twitter that night. That was exciting, but I feel strongly that they don’t tell drama school students enough to separate their talent from themselves. If you get rejected, or if they say horrible things about you in the press, have dignity. Don’t take it too seriously and don’t be competitive. Enjoy other actors, be generous to them and make sure everybody’s having a good time.
Andrew Scott was talking to Miriam Zendle.